The sound of Bruce Springsteen’s Western Stars album often has been described as “cinematic.” So it’s fitting that he sings about a movie actor not only on “Drive Fast (The Stuntman),” but on the atmospheric title track, in which an aging actor who once appeared in western movies finds reinvigoration by the venturing out to the darkness on the edge of town …
I know, wrong song. But something about “Western Stars” does remind me of “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” “Darkness” is about searching for something, and so is “Western Stars.” The actor — who once rubbed shoulders with John Wayne but is now reduced to filming commercials for viagra and a credit card, and eyeing women too young for him at a bar —finds what he’s looking for by venturing out to the desert, where the “old ways” of riding and roping still exist. He may just be an actor (or maybe he also was a cowboy at some point?), but these symbols of the Old West still matter to him.
“Tonight the western stars are shining bright again,” he sings repeatedly, about the skies and himself, over an orchestra that sounds positively exultant. He woke up, at the start of the song, just happy (and maybe surprised) to still be alive. But he is reborn.
He ends the song by singing “I woke up in the morning, just glad my boots were on.” I don’t think that means he’s waking up again, the next day. Note that the tense has changed. At the start of the song he sang, “I wake up in the morning, just glad my boots are on.” So — as I see it, at least — it’s now nighttime, and he’s thinking about the day, and marvelling at how low he was at the start of it.
Background facts: Springsteen released “Western Stars” on his 2019 album of that name. The same day that the album came out, he released the video, below.
On each of the 70 days leading up to Bruce Springsteen’s 70th birthday (on Sept. 23, 2019), NJArts.net will do a post on one of The Boss’ best songs of the last 30 years. We’re starting with No. 70 and working our way up. For more on the project, click here.
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